Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Crumbs Bakeshop
Posted on: February 14, 2012 | Go to profile
Mia gave up a prominent position as a lawyer in New York City government to give her sweet tooth the attention it deserved by starting Crumbs, every New Yorker’s favorite bakery. Since she was a child, Mia has wowed her friends and family with her original baked creations, so she decided to bring together her love of baking—cupcakes—with her desire to build a strong business that is both a neighborhood-gathering place and a destination spot. Crumbs Bake Shops are now found in 26 locations nationwide, and Mia still produces 75% of the company’s delicious cupcake concepts.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: My professional journey began as a lawyer, but when I met my husband, Jason, I felt that he could open up a whole new world to me and I could learn so much from him on being a business woman. It was so foreign to me and therefore so intriguing. I wanted to acquire new skills and explore the world of retail because it was a challenge. I am where I am today because I have drive and ambition and it really does not matter what I chose as my profession as long as I work hard I feel satisfied knowing I gave my all. Baking and owning bakery stores ended up being the right choice for me because I love making people happy and I get to do that every day now.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: Eliminate your ego. There are going to be people who have better ideas than you and you need to listen and you need to be humble. Know when you need help and then trust people to give you help. This is very difficult for entrepreneurs because they are used to being the “idea people” and doing it for themselves, and are not necessarily good collaborators or team players. It is my belief that this is the Achilles’ heal for entrepreneurs – inability to let go and give up some control. It is true that as an entrepreneur you need to trust your gut because after all, it is what motivates you to take the initiative so many others fail to take. However, there is a limit, or better yet a balance, that must exist between bringing your talents to the table and controlling the outcome.
Q: It’s hard to focus on the “big picture” sometimes because we can get caught in the weeds of work and life. When does visioning come clearest or easiest for you? Or what inspires your vision?
A: Fortunately the weeds of life are where most of my visioning comes from. As a working parent of two children, my day-to-day is much like the day-to-day of our customers and my ideas are often inspired by my own needs and desires. When everyone is asleep and the house is still, I can spend more time thinking about the big picture and it is when my imagination flourishes. I spend a lot of time baking on my own and I draw on the interactions I have with my children, Crumbs employees and our amazingly devoted Crumbs fans.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: Early on we asked our friends to send cupcakes to their clients when the need arose. It was at no cost to them and it was tremendous marketing for us. It got our product into the hands of people who didn’t know our brand or our product.
Q: What are your top 3 tips for networking?
A: 1). To be genuine when you meet people and be yourself
2). To be willing to have a conversation with anyone, because you never know where the next opportunity lies
3). Follow through/follow up–and in my experience sending cupcakes the next day works miracles
ON Career Transitions
Q: Many people become discontent with their current career yet are too afraid or reluctant to make a change. What’s your best advice for women in this situation?
A: I get asked a lot about switching careers because I left a successful career in politics to pursue a dream. People want to switch careers but they are not willing to take the risk out of fear. Thus, my advice is that you must honestly weigh your discontent against your fear. If there are concrete reasons for the fear, such as financial obligations, children or health concerns, then perhaps the scale tips in favor of staying where you are; however, for me personally, if I am afraid of something, I know I must confront the fear because it is usually just an excuse. My greatest rewards have come from pulling back the curtain on my fear.
Q: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?
A: There are two answers to this question. The first is with respect to our product and the second is with respect to the brand. Our product created a category in the food industry. It is now the industry standard. When we started no one was making cupcakes that were much more than vanilla or chocolate with perhaps sprinkles or flowers. Now every cupcake company offers unique flavors and decorations. For instance, an Oreo cupcake did not exist in 2003 and now everyone carries an Oreo cupcake or some variation on it. Our cupcakes are instantly recognizable and that has as much to do with our branding as the product itself. It is recognizable because of its large size and extensive toppings and fillings but also because we knew from our first day what our brand stood for and we have filtered every single decision through that lens. It is important to have a strong identity and not stray from it no matter how tempting it may seem. Our brand is imprinted in our company DNA and this is not necessarily true for our competitors.
Q: Who has been your greatest mentor(s)?
A: My husband and partner is my greatest mentor. We came from such different disciplines and I had no experience in the business world. I watched him doing things I wished I had the experience and confidence to attempt. After 9 years in business I have accomplished so many of my goals and overcome any of those early doubts. Jason taught me so much through example and I still learn from him today.
Q: Is there an example in your life of a time when others were against you or your dream, yet you persevered?
A: Most everyone close to me thought I was nuts. I had a law degree and a prestigious job and I gave it all up. People thought I was giving up. I, on the other hand, thought I was doing the bravest thing I had ever done and I am an eternal optimist who believes anything is possible. I never imagined that our little bakery on the Upper West Side of Manhattan would turn into the business that Crumbs is today, but I had no doubt our little bakery would be successful.
Q: What are you most passionate about and how do you incorporate it into your career or everyday life?
A: I am most passionate about making people happy. It sounds corny, but it is so rewarding and also what should be the norm not the exception. I want everyone to pay it forward and it is my goal to be part of the process. If I can make my employees happy and my customers happy, then they will be more likely to pass it on. Sometimes this comes in conflict with being a growing public company, but I will always advocate for making people happy first and everything else will work itself out. I genuinely believe I bake with love and somehow the customers feel that.
ON Taking Risk
Q: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
A: Opening our first bakery on the Upper West Side in 2003 was the biggest risk my husband, Jason, and I have ever taken. I had no professional baking training and we were only dating at the time. While we were ships passing in the night at one point, we made every decision that has made Crumbs what it is today, together. I’m still baking daily and getting to do what I love while spending my day with people who inspire me.
Q: What are the top 3 things that you do to stay healthy?
A: This is a tough one because I sacrifice myself too often. My priorities are my family and my work, and I don’t prioritize myself, which is a mistake because I want to model a better example for my children. I am a fairly healthy eater and even with a ferocious sweet tooth, believe in moderation. I am a strong proponent of exercise and as I get older I gravitate towards more mind/body forms of exercise. The third thing I do to stay healthy, and this is something I actually devote considerable time to, is maintaining a strong spiritual life. I believe that to stay healthy you must take care of your psyche as well as your body.
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite destinations?
A: Venice, Israel, Disney
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite places to get lost?
A: Central Park (although at this point it’s hard to get lost lost), streets of Venice, back roads of the Hamptons
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite places to shop?
A: Farmer’s Markets, Dylan’s Candy Bar, and any monogramming store
Q: In the world, what are your three favorite restaurants?
A: Nobu, Avra, Jean George
Q: What do you believe is the secret to finding the right person and maintaining a long term, good relationship?
A: Finding the right person only happens when you choose with your soul. You have to listen to the quiet voice within you, not the one that is loud and dominant. You can’t choose based on what you see patently. That is just my opinion. Again, in my opinion, maintaining a good relationship is exclusively determined by mutual respect and admiration. You must love the person even when you don’t like them and try to always remember why you fell in love in the first place.
Q: How do you balance career and motherhood?
A: I don’t do it well! I sleep little. But it is the choice I make and though sleep deprived, I feel content and fulfilled knowing I gave my all to both. I believe balance is different for everyone but you need to make it your choice and you need to prioritize and realize that there is always tomorrow.
ON Cooking & Food
Q: If you were stranded on an island and could have an unlimited source of 3 foods (and calories were not a concern), what would they be?
A: Obviously, cupcakes is top of that list (or any dessert for that matter), pasta and maybe Indian food because I never have the opportunity to have it and it is one of my favorite cuisines!